Last Wednesday, Senators John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act, which primarily would require greater transparency from data brokers about consumer information they collect and sell. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing held on the data broker industry in December, Rockefeller expressed concern that data brokers operate “behind a veil of secrecy” and with “very little scrutiny and oversight” in a multibillion-dollar industry that handles large quantities of personal information. A majority staff report released in advance of the hearing found, for example, that some data brokers sell information to other companies that identifies financially vulnerable consumers or individuals with serious health disabilities. In most cases, however, there is no mechanism for consumers to control or correct this information. In its March 2012 report, the Federal Trade Commission called on Congress and businesses alike to increase the transparency of and control over the practices of data brokers, specifically recommending targeted access-rights legislation and industry self-regulation by data brokers and their first-party buyers.
The Act represents not only a response to the FTC, but also the culmination of Sen. Rockefeller’s efforts of the last two years to create accountability and access to what he calls a “booming shadow industry.” The bill defines “data broker” as any “commercial entity that collects, assembles, or maintains personal information concerning an individual . . . in order to sell the information or provide third party access to the information” and imposes the following requirements.